The statement issued by the spokesperson of the Foreign Ministry on Thursday, outlining the government’s position on the yet unproven charge of 40,000 civilian deaths during the final stages of the Vanni campaign, to say the least, is bizarre.
Lord Naseby of the House of Lords in the British parliament, after repeated requests to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, managed to obtain 38 pages of dispatches between January 1 and May 19, 2009, after seeking the intervention of the UK’s Information Commissioner. The dispatches contained information from different sources. They include the US Ambassador in Colombo Robert Blake, the UN Country Team in Sri Lanka, and several others, including knowledgeable foreign military attachés in Colombo. According to the contents in the highly redacted dispatches, civilian deaths in the Vanni campaign during the period under discussion were estimated around 7,000 to 8,000. Lord Naseby urged the British government to “get the UN and UNHRC in Geneva to accept a civilian casualty level of 7,000 and 8,000, not 40,000”. He should be thanked for taking up Sri Lanka’s cause.
The statement “pledges to re-assert lost sovereignty by taking ownership of processes that were in the international domain”. If that be the case, the government needs to clarify the reasons for relegating the LLRC and Paranagama Commission Report to the waste paper basket, and be guided by UNHRC Resolution 30/1 which it co-sponsored unreservedly, without opting out of clauses considered detrimental to the country’s sovereignty.
It need also be stated, this government has done little or nothing in terms of handling processes in the local domain. Hardly any members of the armed forces involved in criminal acts during the conflict in their personal capacity have been prosecuted. More than eight years after the end of hostilities, and two and half years in office, it is yet to resolve the contentious issue of civilian land occupied by armed forces in the Northern Province. This government has failed to announce land required to be retained by armed forces, a compensation scheme for such land, and the return of all other land to its rightful owners.
The government’s view of the need to revisit the unproven charge of 40,000 civilian deaths, based on new information and documentation that have become available as “engaging in arguments and debates in the international domain over the number of civilians who may have died at a particular time”, to say the least is irresponsible. It is not about the “feel good factor for a few individuals” but the good name of thousands in the armed forces and police who made sacrifices over three decades, and the nearly 25,000 who made the supreme sacrifice, besides the many thousands maimed for life to free their compatriots from the scourge of terrorism.
It is also the good name of future generations of Sri Lankans. 72 years after the end of WWII, Germans and Japanese are still reminded of the millions of civilians they put to death in Europe and the Far East.
Far from re-asserting lost sovereignty, all that the government has done since the day UNHRC Resolution 30/1, which it co-sponsored is to reduce this nation’s sovereignty to its national flag and national anthem.